Los Angeles police investigate shooting of unarmed black man

LOS ANGELES Wed Aug 13, 2014 6:44pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles police are investigating the shooting death of an unarmed black man by an officer during an "investigative stop" that led to a struggle, a police spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The incident on Monday night in the city's southern Newton district came two days after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by police in Missouri triggered protests and riots.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said the shooting occurred after the suspect allegedly tried to grab an officer's gun. No officers were hurt in the struggle, and the suspect died in a local hospital of his injuries despite efforts to save his life, the department said.

"The actual struggle occurred because the suspect was going for the officer's gun," LAPD Officer Liliana Preciado told Reuters.

The shooting is being probed by the department's Force Investigation Division, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, the LAPD said in a brief statement on Tuesday.

It did not say what prompted the "investigative stop," and said it was "unknown if the suspect has any gang affiliations."

Police said they were not immediately identifying the deceased man, but a woman who said she was his mother told local broadcaster KTLA his name was Ezell Ford, 25.

She said her son had been complying with officers and was lying down when he was shot three times.

"I got pushed on the ground in the process of trying to find out what happened to my son," she told KTLA. "My son was a good kid. He didn't deserve to die the way he did."

A man who said he was Ford's cousin told KTLA the deceased man suffered from mental problems. "Every officer in this area, from the Newton Division, knows that," the man said.

Civil rights activists who gathered on Wednesday at the scene of the shooting called for a meeting with senior LAPD officials. And they urged that the investigation be made a top priority, given the tensions in Missouri.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said eyewitnesses told him and others that Ford was not resisting, that he had mental challenges, and that police officers in the area were well aware of his condition.

"The fact that several eyewitnesses dispute the police version of Ford's killing makes it even more urgent for the LAPD to meet with civil rights leaders and place their investigation on a fast track footing," Hutchinson said in a statement.

There needed to be "the most rigorous, fair and impartial review," he said, to determine if there was any wrong-doing.

A dozen civil rights groups such as the Congress of Racial Equality and Black Ministerial Alliance endorsed his statement.

Sympathizers called on social media for a rally on Sunday afternoon outside LAPD headquarters, using the hashtag #EzellFord. By mid-afternoon Wednesday, a Facebook page set up by organizers showed more than 400 people planning to attend.

(Editing by Daniel Wallis, Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)